March 15, 2003


 Officers on the road

Posted March 1, 2003
Officers on the road is a new monthly feature of the JAVMA News, designed to let AVMA members know about the issues their leadership is addressing.

Officers on the road

Walther on the changing demographics of the profession

The veterinary profession is undergoing many profound changes. Which changes do you think are going to have the greatest impact?

Dr. Jack O. Walther,
AVMA president-elect,

The economics changes we're going through are certainly going to have the greatest impact. But I think the shift from predominantly rural practices to predominantly urban practices, and how it is affecting the number of veterinarians going into food animal medicine, and the availability of veterinarians to serve the food animal industry, will also be important.

Are you hearing a lot about these changes from other veterinarians?

The National Commission on Veterinary Economic Issues has stimulated a tremendous amount of discussion. Through the 1990s, I think we all recognized that our profession was not doing well economically, but we didn't understand the reasons why we were doing so badly. The NCVEI is starting to bring these issues to light and is showing the way for veterinarians to have more economically sound practices. Everyone is watching that carefully.

In addition, I have spent a lot of time listening to people in the food animal industry and educators who are very aware that, as a profession, we need to be sure that the food animal industry's needs are served.

What are some of the reasons fewer veterinary students are choosing to practice food animal medicine?

Probably the main cause is the large number of applicants going into veterinary school who have urban backgrounds. We're not seeing as many students coming off the ranches and farms as we did historically. As a result, these young people do not look at food animal medicine as a potential career. Hopefully, we'll be able to successfully develop programs that will entice more young people into veterinary school who have rural backgrounds and food animal interest.

What do you think the veterinary profession is doing to address these issues? What else should the profession be doing?

To make a change, we have to understand the reason the problem is occurring in the first place. We must continue to provide a forum to allow the profession the opportunity to discuss important issues as they arise. We have many extremely bright and dedicated members of our profession who, given the chance, will contribute their time and expertise to help find and develop new programs that will ensure our continued success as we enter the 21st century. The NCVEI is one example of bringing a group together to help deal with a specific issue. I see value in the use of task forces, and I will be recommending their additional use in the future.